Monday, January 30, 2012

24 Hours of Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World will be open on February 29th from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm in celebration of leap year.  You and your family can enjoy 24 hours of Magic Kingdom fun (if you can stand it).  You can see the "Celebrate A Dream Come True" parade in the daytime.  Stick around for the "Wishes Nighttime Spectacular", a nighttime parade with fireworks show above Cinderella's Castle.  You need a camera for this as nobody does fireworks like Disney.

Operational Update:  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is closed until May for repairs. Dumbo the Flying Elephant will be closed through March 11th and the Liberty Square Riverboat will be out of service until May 20th.  Everything else in the park is operating at capacity.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Disneyland California Specials - 2012

Disneyland, California has similar deals such as the 3-day package with an additional day.  They also have a 3-day pass for $199.  Southern California residents can "Go Wild" with a 2-day Pass for $99.  There is also a limited time offer of 25% discount at Disneyland's Paradise Pier Hotel March 30th - April 14th  if you book before March 11th.

Military rates apply now through Sep 30th which was extended for active duty and retired. Check soon since it's based on availability.

Passholders be sure to take advantage of discounts at many of the restaurants and gift shops and be sure to get a Photo Pass when you hit the street.  You can have a family photo take  almost anywhere and go home to view it on you computer, laptop, or cell phone.  Order the photo at your leisure rather than have to decide the day of your visit.  (A good example is the photo above.  Mickey has no eyes at that angle!) We love this option since we don't always take a great shot.  It gives you the chance to have a do over!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Disney Vacation Special Offers and Discounts

I think these are two good deals for Walt Disney World that are worth telling.  The first is that if you buy a 3-day and 3-night vacation package at non-discount prices you will get a 4th day and night free. It's called the "Magic Your Way" plan and the inclusive dates are February 26th through March 10th.  You have to book it before January 31st but the sooner the better as there are only so many discount rates they issue. There is also a discounted rate for Florida residents.  The discount isn't deep but if you're in the market for extending your stay it's worth looking in to.

U.S. military can save with a 4-day Park Hopper Pass for $138 and also up to 40% on select hotel rooms.

Florida residents can save up to 35% on select Walt Disney World hotels but there is also a timeline on this so check their web site or call your travel agent.   There is also the "Wild For 3 Pass"  which is 3 days at theme parks for $99.  They have the water park annual pass for $60 (after 2pm).  This is the one we like.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sea World Special Events - 2012

Sea World has it's own lineup of special events for 2012.  Starting with Just For Kids, running from January 4th through February 4th, it's an array of special engagement concerts and shows for the younger family members.  Concerts such as Lazy Town Live, Max and Ruby's Musical Adventure, and Choo-Choo Soul featuring beat box and break dancing, there is something for everyone.

In February there is a southern rock flavor with Bands, Brew,  Bar-B-Q.  Concerts like Trace Adkins, Foreigner, and the Doobie Brothers will rock the house on weekends.  The venues are great for shows and at night they will be much more memorable.

In March, the whole family will enjoy Jack Hanna's Animals.  Jack is a world-renowned zoologist and is presently the Director Emeritus of the Cincinnati Zoo.  He will showcase many animals including the clouded leopard and kookaburra.

Viva la Musica is a Latino musical and entertainment celebration which is always a great time especially enjoyed by visitors from the north.  Being in Florida lends a Caribbean flavor to the event and the food is awesome.

There are also the light and firework shows that run all summer during Sea World Summer Nights with  special whale and dolphin shows  The year rounds out with Halloween Spooktacular, Christmas Celebration, and Sea World New Year celebrations. So, choose your extravaganza and come enjoy partying Florida style.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2012

Universal Studios, Orlando, hosts a Mardi Gras celebration every year from February 11th - April 14th.  It's  New Orleans style street party that includes concerts, street parades, food, and performers. Appearances by music legends such as Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, the B-52's, and K.C. & the Sunshine Band will round out the entertainment for the month along with many others.

There are also special rates for Florida residents, including hotels, so it's a good event for folks to look into. The on-site hotels offer up to 36% per night (which is huge)  and with it comes early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Express Pass to all the rides (except (Rip Rocket Roller Coaster).  Look for other discounts through corporate sites, AAA, military MWR, credit unions, etc.  Rule Number One for the theme park industry:  DON'T pay full price for anything!!  Shopping is the same everywhere.  Some of the best deals are very obscure.

See for yourself at  One can sign up for the newsletter and get all the information you need.  Florida residents look for the section for you for additional deals.  This is one of the off prime times of the year when theme parks try to get you to participate so see what's in it for you.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fantasyland at Walt Disney World First Phase

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is currently working on a new phase of Fantasyland called Storybook Circus.  It begins with a twin version of Dumbo the Flying Elephant and will feature big top circus tents and an interactive play area.

A water play area will be on hand for the younger visitors complete with circus animals spraying water and a version of Casey's locomotive.  The park will be good for the whole family but will be specifically geared for 12 years of age and younger.  It will replace the Toon Town feature that stood for years on the grounds of the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea site.  Disney, like all the parks is constantly upgrading their attractions because the competition from other parks is so fierce.

The initial phase is to open in early 2012 so no date has been set but it should be soon.  As soon as I find out I'll post it with any further information.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World

Another of the four Disney parks is EPCOT Center.  It has it's own theme, Disney of course, but a little more along the lines of culture, environmental, and education.  EPCOT has two main areas:  the front of the park is where the famous golf ball is centered (pictured above).  It's surrounded by game rooms and rides such as Spaceship Earth.  It's a slow ride through time beginning millions of years ago to the present.  It takes you through the entire sphere and the technology is pretty cool.  There is also Ellen's (DeGeneres)  Energy Adventure, Mission Space, and Test Track. One of the best rides is The Seas with Nemo and Friends.  You have to go on this with the kids!

There are numerous play areas, photo shoot areas and plenty of gift shops and eateries.  Easily accessible by car or monorail from the park hotels there is also lots of handicapped parking a at all the parks.
When you walk past the first part of the park the area opens up to a large lake surrounded by small replicas of many countries such as France, Italy, China, Japan, U.K. and more.  We ate dinner in Italy and loved it (see next post for details).  All the countries are incredibly authentic and the cast members who work in a country are actually from the country you're in so it accentuates the experience even more.

The lake is fairly large and if anybody has ever been to a World's Fair, I believe it was setup along that line.  Disney creates great detail in replicating these countries and I only hope they add more countries in the future.  You can visit stage shows along the way and there are various street shows as you walk along.  In this  photo

you see a band playing Celtic and Rock music combined.  We were in Canada at the time but there was a flavor of Irish, English, and Canadian flare to their music.  Very entertaining.

EPCOT was a great day but be prepared to walk!  The nice thing is that the kids can run off and do their thing while the parents can walk around the cultural exhibits.  I suggest families coming from out of town  invest in walkie-talkies so they can stay in touch.  We have a couple of cell phones in our house and that works well.  Now is a great time to visit any of the parks because the high volume Christmas season crowds have gone home.  Also, do some research on line and see what deals you can get with room rates, tickets, and meals.

Via Napoli Ristorante E Pizzeria - EPCOT at Walt Disney World

EPCOT Center at Disney World has an Italian restaurant we enjoyed immensely.   Dinners start at $16.00 for pizza upwards to $29.00 for entrees such as pasta , spaghetti, lasagna, etc.  Since the EPCOT theme is nationalities, the place was as authentic as you can find outside of Italy.  Almost the entire staff is from Italy and their European charm is a pleasant addition to the dining experience.

We started with drinks and stiff bread with olive oil followed by our entrees which all came out with perfect timing.  The dinners were as good as I've ever had at an Italian restaurant.  We ordered two pizzas, spaghetti, and  I had a pasta dish with sausage, meatballs, and mozzarella.  The dinners were cooked expertly and none of us had room for dessert so I can't comment.  The dining room was loud and bustly but in a charming way and there was plenty of staff to accommodate what seemed like a capacity crowd.  Management was conspicuous throughout the time we were there which I think shows a degree of professionalism.

I took a look at the preparation area and saw some serious organization.  There were at least nine chefs from pizza and pasta makers to a dessert staff all very busy.  For those who like Italian food, most of the dishes are cooked in one of three large ovens that are highly visible.  In fact, the entire prep area is in public view.

I've included the menu posted on the outside of the restaurant but, try as I do, it's very hard to get it small enough and still keep it readable.

A few short observations:  First,  try to get reservations as with all Disney restaurants.  It's better than waiting, especially if you have children.  Another thing is that if you have an Annual Pass or a Premium Pass, you are eligible for a discount but only on the lunch menu.

While this is a rather short post I must give this restaurant an A+.  Our dining experience was as perfect as I can ever imagine.  When we walked out we had spent $100.00 but enjoyed every bit of it.  Hats off to Disney management and the Italians!  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Theme Park Fast Pass (short line) Policies

Here is a short video comparing the Fast Pass policies for Disney World, Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure, and Sea World/Busch Gardens.  I hope this explanation is informative:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Portobello Restaurant - Downtown Disney

The same night we went to Disney World we drove over to Downtown Disney to try Portobello's Italian Restaurant.  I've seen this place numerous times and never ate there before now.  Dinners start from $21.99 to $55.00 and they have the usual menu of an Italian restaurant.  Selections are pizza, pasta, chicken, and seafood.  They also have small and large Antipasti plates.  I had black linguine with Florida Rock shrimp.  My wife had a pasta plate and the kids ordered chicken fingers from the children's menu.  The dinners were all good but not the gourmet special I expected.  I would rate it somewhere between Olive Garden and Carrabba's, both good restaurants but not nearly as pricey.

We sat down at a table with dirty water glasses and dirty silverware.  The tablecloth appeared clean but the glasses hadn't been changed out and some of the tableware was dirty.  When I asked the waiter to change them out he appeared not the least bit bothered that I had to ask in the first place.  The service was adequate but not the service you would like to get for $25.00 a plate.  He brought us our bill while we still had food on our plates and didn't offer us any dessert or coffee which is standard at a place like this.  Our waiter was conservative and polite but not at all engaging.  It seemed as though he didn't have time to be pleasant or to up sell the menu since he was also busing his own tables.

It was a good dinner but my money would be better spent at Carrabba's.  Overall, I give it a "B minus".  Could have been a much better experience.

Walt Disney World Hotels

OK.  On December 28th we went back to Shades of Green and had no issues at all.  The place was much busier than the previous week but we had a much better time.  We stayed in a different Wing this time and discovered an AAFES store open from 0900-2100 daily.  They also have a Starbuck's kiosk open from 0900-1200 daily.  There are two pools and a playground area.  Plus a lounge with several game rooms we didn't see last week.  I also noticed something else.  Instead of taking the bus from Shades of Green to the ticket booth area you can walk across the street to the Polynesian Hotel and jump on the monorail which runs about every five minutes.  So, this trip we give it an overall "A" as everything went well.